Silent Hill (2006)
By: Trist Jones on September 1, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Tristar (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.40:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 125 mins
The Movie
Director: Christophe Gans
Starring: Alice Krige, Radha Mitchell, Deborah Kara Unger , Tanya Allen, Kim Coates, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland, Sean Bean
Screenplay: Roger Avary
Music: Jeff Danna
Tagline: Enjoy your stay.
Country: USA
In case you hadn't already gathered; I'm a big fan of the Silent Hill series. The games remain the most enthralling, intense, cerebrally terrifying, and completely gratifying horror experiences I've sat through in any form of entertainment medium. Having said that, I've pretty much laid my cards on the table, haven't I? I'm likely to be biased. Well, I may as well get it out of the way now and say that so far, Silent Hill is the best horror film of 2006. But this isn't just from me watching it as a Silent Hill fan; this is from me looking at it from an outsider's point of view. In fact, even if I had not played the games or had any connection to the media already associated with the franchise, I would still be telling you exactly the same thing. I understand that from a gamer's point of view, any video game to film translation will undoubtedly draw that sigh of disappointment one often breathes when boundless potential for cinematic awesomeness is met with the harsh reality that until now, there has not been a single film made from a video game that has been truly worth the money. Note two things though, this is from the gamer's or fan's point of view, and that I said until now. That's right, you can put any fears to rest: along with being the best horror film I've seen this year, it's also the best video game to silver screen translation to date. I know, I know, it may not exactly be saying much, considering some of the horrific (Uwe Boll) and sadly mediocre (Paul Anderson) efforts that have come from similar origins. From the outset, films like Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, and Super Mario Brothers may be fun little outings for the average cinema goer, horror fan, action lover, or adventure fan, but for the gamer's they're travesties. Silent Hill manages to well and truly establish a new primacy in the sub-sub-category of oft-maligned films, and should be viewed as the benchmark by which ALL directors wanting to make films of their video games should hope to achieve.

Now, having put the gamers at ease (for now), here's the low-down for all you casual film goers, completely new to the world of Silent Hill. Australia's own Radha Mitchell stars as Rose Da Silva, a young mother whose daughter Sharon (Tideland's Jodelle Ferland) suffers continual sleep walking episodes accompanied by vivid night terrors – which we are shown in the film's opening. We discover that of late, Sharon keeps screaming about "home" and a place called "Silent Hill". Against the wishes of her husband Chris (Sean Bean), Rose takes her daughter to Silent Hill, hoping that whatever it is that's affecting Sharon will cease. However, after becoming involved in a car accident on the outskirts of the town, Rose awakens to find her daughter missing, and decides to head into the town for help.

As one can expect, not all is as it seems within the fog enveloped town…

Silent Hill is as far from what seems to be the modern, 'conventional' horror flick as you can get. These days, we're inundated with boo-scares or gratuitous and graphic violence in dark and/or confined spaces, and seemingly unstoppable "Michael Myers" antagonists. It's also about as far as you can get from the seemingly endless tirade of foreign remakes as you can get too. Silent Hill harks back to much more open horror films, such as The Wicker Man, where the themes and ideas behind what was going on in the film were what generated the horror and made it scary. The film Silent Hill is not a "traditionally" scary film; people aren't going to be jumping up and screaming in their seats (outside of a couple of scenes). It's everything that happens inside your head as you piece it all together and absorb what you're shown that makes it scary. What you see and what unravels is disturbing enough to resonate the same, if not a stronger sense of discomfort as you'd experience watching a "traditional" scary movie (that is actually scary). It's like when you hear or read a good ghost story, and even though it's just words on a page, what it conjures in your mind stays with you and makes it unsettling. Basically, what I'm saying is it's a much more cerebral horror film than what's been ebbing out onto the screens of late, and unlike the ones that try to be that little bit more than a 'scary movie', Silent Hill succeeds in maintaining a very solid grip on the viewer because of this.

Even the visceral moments of the film have the same disturbing resonance as cerebral moments because of the reasoning and intimation behind them. There are a couple of awesome and truly inspired moments of straight up gore (probably the most memorable and unexpectedly shocking sees a slightly retarded girl have her clothes ripped from her body, followed immediately by her skin, which is then splattered at Rose, and the "Nurse" sequence manages to be gracefully disturbing and full-on violent at the same time), and the carnage builds up until it reaches a point where it becomes a complete frenzy. I'm sure the final sequence is going to please a lot of people, though the rest of the film may leave gore enthusiasts a little disappointed.

The story itself has been fairly well translated from game to film, in spite of several necessary (and some unnecessary) liberties to make the transition smoother and more acceptable to a global audience. Any game fan thinking that this film was made solely for them is a jackass and deserves to be let down or angry, but I digress. The story, and the way it plays out, feels natural enough to me from the perspective of someone who holds the games very close, however, the outside eye is going to see something very different in this film. The best way to sum up this film for someone unfamiliar with the games and the stories therein, Silent Hill plays out a lot like Alice in Wonderland with a very heavy mix of Dante's Inferno. There's a surreal, dreamlike quality to the whole thing that may leave newcomers asking "What the fuck?!", and things that will be apparent from the beginning to the gamer will be cold to others. Don't be put off by this though; once the film comes to its conclusion most of the questions the film raises early on are answered in full. There is a moment of somewhat heavy exposition near the end that may not gel too well with some people, but it's something gamers will be familiar with (in terms of deliverance and style) and less picky film goers would not have too much (if any) problem with. I can really only see film students, hardcores and "respectable" film critics getting their noses out of joint about it. The ending however, is something of a mystery, and while it closes off the film well enough, it does raise a huge number of questions and thankfully leaves itself open to a Sean Bean-centric sequel.

Unlike the vast majority of recent horror films to hit the cinema, the performances are extremely solid. Minor characters manage to stand up against the mains, almost managing to steal the spotlight from them when they're about. Sean Bean is excellent, however it is a shame that we don't get to see him do more in the film. He's great and feels fine as the film progresses, and the ending leaves his character in particular a whole world of great possibilities for a sequel (even allowing for the possibility of a fairly direct translation of the masterful Silent Hill 2 game), it's just that when the film is over, you're left wishing he could have had more to do with the darker side of things (although his character was added when the producers commented on the lack of any male characters in the film, which, in retrospect, is definitely how the character feels – slightly tacked on). Jodelle Ferland is great in both her roles (I won't spoil it) and manages to maintain both characters as very different entities, and Laurie Holden is somewhat surprising as Officer Cybil Bennett. Alice Krige does a pretty damn good job with Christabella, the cultist matriarch leading those left in town, who, from what I've seen of the new Wicker Man promos, could probably do a better job of pulling off what Ellen Burstyn is meant to be doing in that film. The only real problem I can see any of the performances is Radha Mitchell's accent. This is probably something that's only going to affect us Aussies, but there are one or two moments where she drops her accent, or can't quite seem to pull of lines and maintain it, and for that fraction of a second, you're reminded of just how different our accents are.

For the gamers, all the characterisations are fairly spot on, considering the alterations and liberties taken to the story itself. Cybil is pretty much straight out of the game, though some will say that she isn't, the reason I say she is is because she's in a completely different situation here. For those who aren't aware, in Silent Hill 1, the character of Rose is actually a guy named Harry Mason, who does a much better job of relating himself to the officer than Rose does (you'll see what I mean). Essentially they fulfil exactly the same purpose and follow the same story path – the nature of Silent Hill makes your central characters fairly gender neutral to allow players of either sex relate on roughly the same level to what's going on. Dahlia (played by Deborah Kara Unger) is noticeably different – character wise at least – from the Dahlia present in the game, and much of this character seems to have been transferred across to Christabella (with dashes of Claudia Wolf, the antagonist of the third game). Fans are teased with other characters, such as Lisa – who, although never mentioned by name, is very obviously the nurse watching over a certain someone who is ripped directly and faithfully from the first game.

Now to the part that makes the games so memorable for the gamers, and likely to be seared into the minds of those who see the film: the Monsters. I usually subscribe to the 'less is more' approach when it comes to monsters, simply because the more you see a monster, the less frightening it becomes. This is why Alien worked, and why so many others – in recent times at least – crashed and burned horribly. Somehow, Silent Hill manages to slap you with its monsters square in the face, and the best part is; not only do the monsters not lose anything the longer they're shown, they actually become more threatening the more they're shown. The Red Pyramid (aka. Internet cult icon "Pyramid Head") has an "Aw, shit!" factor that leaves the Terminator for dead, even though his actual screen time is surprisingly minimal. He also carries the biggest fucking knife you will ever see in your life, both in this and the games, but he's such a badass that you don't even question it. Even my less genre savvy and more cynical friends who watched it bought it completely.

You might recall (if you've read my review Silent Hill 2) the disturbing, armless beings that look like a pair of legs and a torso & head wrapped in skin. Fans of the games will love it's appearance in this film, and the average film goer will be just as disturbed by it as gamers were when they first laid eyes on it. No punches are pulled in showing it for what it is, and as repulsive a monster as it is, you simply cannot pry your eyes from it. Other monsters from the games include the horrible mumbling children, who are much more harrowing in the film than they are in the games, the bugs, and the unforgettably disturbing nurses (whose aesthetics have been taken from Silent Hill 2). One particularly disturbing new addition to the cast of monstrosities is "The Janitor", a man with his ankles tied to the back of his head with barbed wire, who crawls along on his stomach making disgusting, sexually suggestive noises and gestures with his tongue. When it becomes clear who or what all these beings are, you get a very satisfying "Aaaah-ha!" moment of clarity, adding further dimensions to these very "What the Fuck?" creatures, and it thankfully doesn't make them any less disturbing upon second viewing. Fans, along with myself, will also be pleased to know that the Red Pyramid however, remains an enigma.

The best part about all of these monsters is that, outside of the swarms of insects; not a single one of them is CGI. Everything you see is in camera, and when you get a chance to see the behind the scenes features, it's amazing to see just what is and what isn't computer enhanced. Because the film switches seamlessly between digital and standard film, and utilizes a large number of camera movements from the game, large parts of it feel like CGI, but surprisingly little of it actually is – that's how good some of the shots are. There were a number I would've put good money on being computer generated, but thankfully I didn't, otherwise I'd be a poor man right now (poorer than I am at least…). The goop that the armless thing ejects from its body – real too! The only truly obvious CGI moments are ones that you know for certain are impossible to achieve physically, such as the transformation of the town itself when the monsters appear, and a creature that appears for the film's climax, but just because you know for certain, doesn't mean it's unimpressive. It is good CG, and it's good to see that very careful thought was put into making the creatures and the town look and work believably.

The cinematography is amazing. Dan Laustsen, whose previous films include Brotherhood of the Wolf, Darkness Falls and Nightwatch, offers up some truly awesome shots, particularly those involving any movement of the camera. Again, fans of the series will feel right at home as the movements have clearly been inspired by the game, some being taken straight from it, and again, this isn't something that's likely to put newcomers off. The shots, from both perspectives, are great and very clever, although the lighting in certain sequences may present problems for some people, as it really does become extremely dark. Even I was wishing at a couple of points that I could see things just a little better.

Another truly impressive aspect of the film is the sound design, again, from both the point of view of the fan and the outsider. Akira Yamoaka's score has been lifted straight from the game, but has been appropriated enough to suite the film as well, and I think newcomers will be pleasantly surprised by what they hear while the fans cream themselves. The sound effects are also genuinely effective. The film manages to make the siren (gamers know, the rest; just watch) far more menacing than it is in the game (and actually provides an excellent explanation for it's existence) and every sound the creature's make is as effective here as it is in the games – sometimes more so.

As a film, it truly is one of the better horror films I've seen in years, and even if you don't agree with me entirely, I defy anyone who feels that the admission price to this film was a waste of money (even the closing credits are worth sticking around for)!
The anamorphic 2.40:1 transfer is spotless, but you have to expect this these days, especially from Tristar (Sony in disguise). The film is very dark in a number of sequences, but this is deliberate, so in spite of your better attempts to amp up the brightness in order to see the creatures or surroundings a little better, you're only going to do the movie a disservices by blowing everything else out and not leaving the blacks as they should be. The DVD is actually a touch brighter than the cinematic release, so anything you can't see in the darkness, you're not meant to.
The audio, like the visual quality, is top notch. The games were very driven by their sound, and the film follows perfectly in their footsteps, managing to both emulate them and hold it's own really well. It's all presented (as is standard fare these days) in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it's well worth cranking your speakers up because when the shit hits the fan it'll give your set up a true work out!
Extra Features
This is the only real downer. For such a rich film, it's surprisingly light on extras, especially given Gans's last DVD outing (the excellent 2-Disc Brotherhood of the Wolf) and especially given that it's a Sony release. The extras present though are fairly encompassing, which makes me continually wonder whether we'll see a double dip of this film or not (according to pretty much everything I've read, what you see is the cut of the film everyone was happy with, there were no battles for scenes to remain or gore to be cut or anything like that, so an extended cut is unlikely). What you get is good, but it just feels as though there should be more.

Much like a number of other DVD's around these days, you have one large documentary on the making of the film that can be broken into smaller ten to fifteen minute segments. The segments include an overview of the origins of Silent Hill; which takes a look at the games and the history going into the film, the casting; which is your general bit of banter and introductory spiel from key cast members, but then we start coming to the more interesting stuff. Building Silent Hill takes a look at the extensive amount of work that went into the set construction. The recreation of the town is uncanny, and when you see the source material compared to the film interpretation it is unbelievable. The attention to even the smallest details is borderline insane.

Stars and Stunts of Silent Hill takes a look at the people behind and under the monster suits, and also goes over the (minimal) stunt work that went into the film. Nothing spectacular, but it does have some interesting little on set bits.

Creatures Unleashed is the best section by far, giving an up close look at all the work that went into bringing the creatures to life. It elaborates a bit further on the performers under the suits and pretty much dissects every little piece that went into the key monsters. It's rather bizarre seeing these things being filmed, as there were a number of times I found myself pretty sure I was watching CGI during the film. This section also ties up nicely with Creature Choreography, which rounds out the documentary, and looks largely at the scene involving the nurses, but to elaborate further on that would spoil a great little moment!

You get a bunch of previews for films coming to both DVD and cinema, though the only one of note is Ghost Rider. Aside from these there's nothing else, which is a real shame because I would've liked to have heard some commentaries, especially from those involved in the creative end (writer Roger Avary and Christophe Gans especially) and some interviews with the Silent Hill game creative teams giving their take on the film would've been welcomed too. But still, we have what we have, and that's just enough for me.
The Verdict
In spite of some slight disappointment in regards to the amount of extras, Silent Hill is still a film I consider worthy enough to own on DVD. It's a very different breed of horror film, but one that I hope will continue to pop it's head up amidst the mediocrity hitting our screens of late and, so far it holds the top spot as this years best horror film for me. The fans will love it, as it has everything they want and should expect from the film and gives a sly nod for the possibility of more to come. Newcomers are going to be a little confounded at first but by the time everything starts to come together, I'm pretty sure that it will earn the respect of any true horror fan. Definitely worth checking out.
Movie Score
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